Atlanta • The Los Angeles Dodgers went through all the expected motions after winning a playoff series.
They broke out T-shirts and caps. They posed for pictures in the middle of SunTrust Park. They doused each other with beer in the clubhouse.
Then, just like that, their focus turned to bigger goals ahead.
For a power-packed team that hasn’t won a World Series since 1988, nothing less will do.
“We all know that there’s a lot more work to be done,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said after his team finished off the Atlanta Braves with a 6-2 victory Monday in the NL Division Series. “We have eight more wins to go.”
Manny Machado hit a three-run homer and David Freese came through again in the postseason to lead the Dodgers into the NL Championship Series for the third year in a row. Los Angeles moved on to face the Brewers after taking out the Baby Braves 3-1 in the best-of-five series.
Game 1 is Friday night in Milwaukee, the Dodgers’ fourth championship series in six seasons.
“We prepared ourselves to get here,” Machado said, “and we’re not going to stop till we get what we want.”
Of course, this is just what the Dodgers had in mind when they bolstered their already power-packed lineup by acquiring the slugging shortstop — and free agent-to-be — from lowly Baltimore back in July.
Machado had only three hits in the series, but two of them were homers to go along with six RBIs. He got the Dodgers going in Game 4 with a run-scoring double in the first , and effectively wrapped up the series with his seventh-inning shot off rookie Chad Sobotka that cleared the Dodgers’ bullpen in left.
“There are so many expectations put on him,” Roberts said. “We have a lot of good players, but I can’t say enough about his focus and preparedness.”
Coming off a tense victory in Game 3, the Baby Braves grabbed the lead on pinch-hitter Kurt Suzuki’s two-run single in the fourth.
But Freese, the 2011 World Series MVP with St. Louis, countered with a pinch-hit single of his own in the sixth off Brad Brach , driving home Cody Bellinger and Yasiel Puig for a 3-2 lead.
“You just gotta be ready,” Freese said. “Whether you’re in high school, college, whatever, just be ready. You don’t have to be the best player in the world, you don’t have to make the most money, but you’re going to have a shot to do something cool. I learned that early in my career. I just try and stick with it.”
Ryan Madson earned the win by getting the final two outs in the fifth to escape a bases-loaded jam. The Braves’ final gasp came in the eighth, when Lucas Duda’s drive into the second deck in right drifted foul with two on against Kenta Maeda. Duda flied out to end the inning, and Atlanta went down quietly in the ninth.
The Braves’ return to the postseason for the first time since 2013 yielded a familiar result.
Atlanta has lost nine straight playoff appearances, their last victory coming 17 long years ago against a team that is no longer in the National League. Since a sweep of Houston Astros in the 2001 NL Division Series, October has been a month of misery for the Braves.
Getting back to the playoffs ahead of schedule after a massive rebuild, Atlanta simply didn’t have the experience, depth or power to stick with the power-packed Dodgers. Los Angeles had a franchise-record 235 homers during the regular season and eight more against the Braves, accounting for 14 of its 20 runs.
Tinseltown has become Boomtown.
“They’re a very powerful team,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “It’s what they’ve done all year is hit home runs. We’re not built like that yet.”
Los Angeles also benefited from some shaky Atlanta defense during its go-ahead inning. Puig kept the sixth going with a popup down the line off loser Jonny Venters that fell between second baseman Ozzie Albies and right fielder Nick Markakis .
Puig stole second without drawing a throw and came home when backup shortstop Charlie Culberson failed to knock down Freese’s sharp grounder up the middle. A super sub during the regular season, Culberson had to start in the playoffs because of an injury to regular Dansby Swanson.
“They played better baseball than we did,” Culberson said.
Houston sweeps aside Cleveland
Cleveland • As his teammates sprayed each other with champagne and beer in Houston’s buzzing clubhouse, ace Justin Verlander stayed clear of the fray and foam while enjoying a cigar.
This wasn’t the time to get soaked. Bigger parties lie ahead.
The Astros are back in an October orbit.
The defending World Series champions advanced to the AL Championship Series for the second straight year — with surprising ease — by completing a division-round sweep of Cleveland on Monday with an 11-3 lashing in Game 3 helped by two key throwing errors from Indians reliever Trevor Bauer.
“No one takes anything for granted here,” Verlander said. “That’s the DNA of the guys in this clubhouse. This team has a propensity to do big things in big spots. This is an atmosphere that breeds winning.
“We have the most complete team in baseball.”
Marwin Gonzalez hit a two-run double off Bauer in a three-run seventh inning , and the Astros scored 10 runs in their final three at-bats to turn a series that was supposed to be competitive into a complete rout.
“We’re the reigning world champs, and we really have a good ability to show up for the day,” Houston manager A.J. Hinch said. “So proud of our guys, the work they put into the winter. It was a short winter for us. As you can see, our guys are pretty hungry to advance.”
The Astros moved to the ALCS on-deck circle, where they await the Boston-New York winner for a shot to play for another championship.
George Springer homered twice, Carlos Correa hit three-run homer for his first hit of the postseason and Houston’s bullpen combined for four scoreless innings, including six straight outs by winner Collin McHugh , as the AL West champions served notice that a second Series title is on their itinerary.
After the Astros finished this demolition of the Indians, they briefly celebrated on the infield at Progressive Field before donning ski goggles in their clubhouse.
For the Indians, another postseason ended earlier than planned. Cleveland was beaten in the first round for the second year in a row — New York came back from a 2-0 deficit in 2017 — and baseball’s longest World Series championship drought will reach a 71st anniversary.
The Indians hit just .144 in the series, were outscored 21-6 and have lost six straight playoff games. They were swept for the first time since the 1954 World Series.
“We got to go home now, before we’re ready to,” manager Terry Francona said. “That hurts. It always stings. I just told the guys, we’ve got a number of guys that are free agents. You know there’s going to be some turnover, and it’s a real special group to all of us.
“So that’s a hard one, when you’re saying goodbye before you’re ready to.”
Reliever Andrew Miller, one of several potential free agents, couldn’t allow himself to think about the future while saying goodbye to teammates.
“There’s probably a million things you could point to why we didn’t win three games,” said Miller, who was on the disabled list three times this year. “This is isn’t the way we want it to end.”
Francisco Lindor homered off a circular digital clock in the fifth off Dallas Keuchel to give Cleveland a 2-1 lead that vanished in the seventh.
With a major assist, actually two of them by Bauer, the Astros rallied off Bauer. The starter-turned-postseason reliever, who took the loss, stooped behind the mound and dropped his head after his two errant throws.
Tony Kemp singled and was awarded second when Bauer’s pickoff throw hopped into the photographer’s pit . Springer reached on a dribbler that catcher Yan Gomes couldn’t make a play on as Kemp took third. Jose Altuve grounded into a forceout, with Kemp scoring to tie it 2-2 .
Bauer got the dangerous Alex Bregman to hit a comebacker. But the right-hander’s throw to second was off line , pulling Lindor off the bag and and both runners were safe — a mistake that surely will haunt the enigmatic pitcher all winter.
“I caught the ball. I turned around to throw it,” Bauer said. “I saw Frankie going to my right and the umpire crossing over and going to my left. I was in the middle of throwing. I kind of flinched. I made a bad throw. There’s no way around it. That should have been the end of the inning.
“It was a 2-2 game and we’re in the seventh and had a chance. I didn’t execute.”
As he walked to the dugout, Bauer, who did not commit an error in 28 appearances this season, received a polite ovation from Cleveland fans. They appreciated that the Indians had to ride him in October because of all the other problems in the team’s bullpen.
Mike Clevinger gave Francona a terrific outing — five strong innings before Bauer entered.
Springer, who struck out on three pitches in his first two at-bats against Clevinger, got him the third time and drove the first pitch into the left-field bleachers to tie it 1-all .
It was Springer’s franchise-record ninth homer in the postseason — he hit No. 10 in the eighth — and gave the Astros a homer in 12 straight playoff games, matching the AL record set by Baltimore (1983, 1997). After hitting just three home runs in the final 1½ months of the regular season, Springer went deep three times against Cleveland.
Unlike the Indians, who coasted to a third straight title, Houston got pushed.
But once the Oakland Athletics applied pressure, the Astros took off and went 29-10 after Aug. 18.
They’re soaring again.
“At no point this season was there any complacency with this team,” Verlander said. “If I had been traded here after they won the World Series, instead of before it last year, I would have assumed this was a young and hungry team when I walked in the clubhouse.”
Boston routs New York for 2-1 series lead
New York • Brock Holt became the first player to hit for the cycle in a postseason game and the Boston Red Sox routed the New York Yankees 16-1 on Monday night to grab a 2-1 lead in their best-of-five AL Division Series.
Andrew Benintendi lined a three-run double and Holt tripled home two more in a seven-run fourth inning that quickly turned the latest playoff matchup between these longtime rivals into a laugher. Handed a big early lead, Nathan Eovaldi shut down his former team during New York’s most lopsided defeat in 396 postseason games.
Boston battered an ineffective Luis Severino and silenced a charged-up Yankee Stadium crowd that emptied out fast on a night when Red Sox rookie manager Alex Cora made all the right moves. By the ninth, backup catcher Austin Romine was on the mound for New York — he gave up a two-run homer to Holt that completed his cycle.
Game 4 is Tuesday night in the Bronx, where the 108-win Red Sox can put away the wild-card Yankees for good and advance to the AL Championship Series against Houston. Rick Porcello is scheduled to pitch for Boston against CC Sabathia.
Boosted by noisy fans in their homer-friendly ballpark, the Yankees entered 7-0 at home the past two postseasons — against out-of-division opponents. But the Red Sox, frequent visitors of course, were hardly intimidated.
Holt, making his first playoff start this year, opened the fourth with a single off Severino and capped the outburst with a triple to right field. Holt also doubled home a run in the eighth — he finished with five RBIs and four of Boston’s 18 hits.
Eovaldi pitched for the Yankees from 2015-16 before injuring his elbow, which required a second Tommy John surgery. Boston acquired him from Tampa Bay in July and the hard-throwing righty compiled a 1.93 ERA in four starts against New York this season — three with the Red Sox.
Bumped up a day in front of Porcello, he delivered a gem in his first postseason appearance. Eovaldi allowed one run and five hits in seven innings, throwing 72 of 97 pitches for strikes.
Going with Eovaldi was only one of several choices that paid off for Cora.
Looking to play left-handed hitters against Severino, the first-year skipper inserted Holt at second base and Rafael Devers at third. Christian Vazquez started at catcher over Sandy Leon.
Devers singled twice, stole a base, scored two runs and knocked in another. Vazquez’s infield single off Severino’s glove in the second drove in the first run.
Benintendi, who hit .351 with eight doubles and 12 RBIs in 19 games against the Yankees this year, was on base four times and scored twice.